Bad news on the federal budget front continues this week: on Wednesday, a Republican majority in the House passed a budget plan that slashes trillions of dollars from programs for low-income families but shields tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans and corporations. And in the wee hours this morning, the Senate wrapped up its budget debate and passed a similarly disastrous proposal along party lines. Though the House and Senate budget resolutions are blueprints—legislation making the changes they call for would still have to be enacted—they are an important statement of congressional priorities, and in the words of Senator Sanders (D-VT), the Republican budgets “say those people who are struggling, those people who are trying to feed their families, those people who are trying to send their kids to college, those are not the people that we should be helping. Rather, we’ve got to worry about the top 1 percent.”
Adding insult to injury, actions were taken in both the House and Senate this week to advance lavish tax breaks for a small fraction of the top 1 percent. On a straight party-line vote, the House Ways and Means Committee approved the bill to repeal the estate tax, H.R. 1105, which would give the heirs of the richest 0.2 percent of estates an average windfall of $2.5 million each. An updated estimate by the Joint Committee on Taxation puts the cost of this giveaway at $269 billion over 10 years. Even in Washington, that’s real money—it’s more than enough to pay for the 10-year cost of three significant new investments proposed in President Obama’s budget: significantly expanding child care assistance, especially for infants and toddlers ($82 billion), AND funding pre-K for all four-year olds in low-and moderate-income families ($75 billion), AND two-years of tuition-free community college ($60 billion)—with $52 billion left over.
In the Senate, a companion estate tax repeal bill, S. 860, was introduced this week by Senator John Thune (R-SD); it has 27 co-sponsors as of this date. And, last night, on a largely party-line vote of 54-46, a majority of Senators supported repeal of the estate tax (the exceptions were Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WV, who voted for the amendment, and Sen. Susan Collins, R-ME, who voted against). That vote was not on the repeal bill; it was a vote to amend the budget resolution to allow spending $269 billion on this tax break as long as it was paid for some other way—possibly even deeper cuts to the programs that help the other 99.8 percent. As we said, while not binding, the vote is an indication of Senators’ priorities.
To quote Senator Sanders again, the “federal budget… is about who we are as a nation and what we stand for.” At least, it should be. But the budgets that just passed the House and Senate do not reflect the priorities and values of the large majority of Americans. Most Americans don’t want Congress to increase poverty and inequality—they want to reduce them, through measures like increasing the minimum wage. And there is some encouraging news on that front, thanks to a new $12 minimum wage proposal from Senator Murray (D-WA)—read more right here!